Early Christians understood that to proclaim Jesus is Lord and that their citizenship is in Heaven was to make a political statement: Caesar is not lord (or in today’s lingo, #NotMyCaesar). It was a pronouncement that the laws and customs of Caesar and his empire do not bind Christians; we follow the true Law and the true Lord, both of which are completely unlike our earthly lords and their man-made imperial laws. To have Christ as ‘Lord’ means to have a lord who lowers himself to serve others; he is the anti-lord. His law — the true Law, characterized by love and mercy — is ‘anti-law.’ Though in truth, it is any man-made laws which violate God’s Law (i.e., conflict with God’s character) which are truly anti-law.
Sadly, concessions were made by some parts of the church so as to make Christianity more compatible with empire, and eventually the church and empire fused in the fourth century. As Joerg Rieger writes in Christ and Empire, “References to Christ, who refused to go along with empire, were subsequently grafted onto other theologies that promised to be more supportive of the status quo” (p. 28).
And the rest, you could say, is history. This trend has continued since then, and thus in America we find that much of Christianity has subordinated its foundational principles to those of empire. To be a Christian in America is (by and large) to be a nationalist. As Rieger says, “when Christians in a context of empire are unaware of the political implications of their faith, their Christ is likely to be co-opted by empire by default” (p. 44). Other religions were made to serve empire; Christianity was meant to subvert it.